How to Read & Find Bass Guitar Tabs For Your Favorite Songs

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Want to play all of your favorite songs on bass? Learn where to find the tabs you need in this guest post by San Diego teacher Justine D...

 

Bass guitar tabs can help you sharpen your listening skills, try out new skills and techniques, and — of course — learn your favorite songs’ bass lines! In this blog post, we’ll cover where you can find bass guitar tabs and how to decide which one you want to use.

What is a bass guitar tab and how do you read it?

Did you know that “tab” stands for “tabulature,” a kind of musical notation that focuses on fretted finger placement rather than the actual pitches? It’s been in use for years; in fact, during the Renaissance tabulature was used to help lute players play and write down songs! Today, many bass tabs are written and shared online by musicians like you who want a way to remember their favorite songs.

tabulature example

Bass tab features four horizontal lines that represent each of your strings; the line at the very bottom represents your low E string, while the line at the top represents your G string. The numbers on the lines represent what fret to play. Read the tab from left to right, playing only the notes indicated by the numbers. In this example, you would play the 1st fret of your E string six times before moving on to the next measure.

Where can you find bass tabs online?

  • Ultimate Guitar: Despite its name, this website does have bass guitar tabs, too! Use their advanced search to make sure you only get bass tabs in your results. I like this site because tab submitters can indicate the difficulty of the tab and the genre, making searching easy. There’s quite a range of genres here — anime to electronic to world and rap — but most of the tunes are in the rock genre.
  • Big Bass Tabs: Here, the name rings true: this site only lists bass tabs! The majority are rock songs, though you can find the occasional rap and pop bass tab, too. They have a dedicated requests page that you can try if you’re looking for a hard-to-find tab. You can also find bass lessons here.
  • 911Tabs: If you can’t find a good tab on the above two sites, this is another good website to try. This site doesn’t actually host the tabs on their server; instead, it’s more like a search engine that checks other sites’ databases (including Ultimate Guitar) and shows results from multiple places. However, they don’t show all the versions that other sites may have.

While they aren’t dedicated tab repositories, Bass Musician Magazine and No Treble share tabs from jazz, metal, and other rarer genres of music. You won’t find just any tab here, though; you’re limited to what they’ve chosen to provide to you. Many of the tabs are more intermediate to advanced, though, so it’s a good place to browse and learn more complex music and techniques. You may even pick up a new favorite artist or two!

How do you know which bass tab to use?

Anyone can submit a bass tab to any of these websites, and they don’t usually review the tab before it goes online. Because tabs are written by ear, some tabs may have mistakes. Other musicians may upload additional versions of a song’s tab to correct the mistakes they see or share the way they play it.

Many sites use a rating system that allows users to show which tabs they recommend and which they don’t; look for a 4- or 5-star rating next to a tab’s link.

Popular songs may have up to 20 or more tab versions on a site. I typically start with the highest number version (e.g. “Money (version 25)”, versus “Money (version 2)”), assuming that the multiple versions are fixing errors found in versions 1–24.

tabulature example 2

Lastly, most tabs don’t indicate any kind of rhythm; you have to rely on your ears to help you know how fast or short you play the notes. Some tabbers will try to space the numbers out, but this can still be unclear. If you see a tab that does explicitly state the rhythm, though, try that one first! In this example, the Es at the top indicate the eighth note rhythm of the bass line.

Good luck with your bass playing! If you come across a resource we haven’t listed here, let us know where it is by leaving a comment below!

JustineDJustine D. teaches guitar, bass guitar, upright bass, and music theory lessons in San Diego, CA, as well as online. She received a double major in in music and psychology at Kalamazoo College, and joined the TakeLessons team in 2011. Learn more about Justine here! 

 

 

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